TLC for Your UTV

Whether your utility vehicle (UTV) is a tool or a toy, it's frustrating when you're ready to go and it isn't. Equipment downtime for repairs can hurt your business through lost revenue and project delays, not to mention the damage to your reputation.

Regular servicing will ensure that your utility vehicle stays in tip-top shape and provides many years of reliable service — important advantages for running an efficient operation in today's ultra-competitive environment.

UTILITY EXPLOSION

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UTVs have become an essential tool for a variety of commercial professions including landscaping, turf, golf, construction, parks and recreation and farming. According to Power Systems Research (PSR), a St. Paul, Minn.-based market research company, 126,000 UTVs were sold in 2003. While final 2004 figures have not yet been released, PSR estimates that UTV sales could come in at between 150,000 and 175,000 units.

Whether transporting people, hauling cargo (tools, generators, lumber, gravel, mulch, sand, grass or hay), pulling a trailer or powering a specialized attachment, the UTV's versatility to perform a multitude of tasks in virtually any application is making it an indispensable tool for grounds maintenance professionals.

But a UTV is only as reliable as its upkeep, and like any motorized vehicle, it requires regular maintenance. Luckily, UTV maintenance is relatively easy and painless if you know what to look for and how often to check your vehicle. There are a variety of UTVs on the market, so it's important to perform maintenance according to the manufacturer's recommendations outlined in the owner's manual and to ensure all repairs are carried out by a qualified person.

Giving your UTV a detailed once-over at the beginning of each season — spring, summer, fall and winter — is a good rule of thumb for timing your regular maintenance. The key areas to focus on are the air filter, oil, oil filter, tire pressure and nuts and bolts on major components.

Focusing on these areas may not satisfy every maintenance need on your UTV, but it will cover the most common issues and help preserve the life of your vehicle.

PAY ATTENTION TO THE AIR FILTER

Since dust can wreak havoc on a UTV's air intake system, cleaning the air filter on a regular basis is a must. When dust, dirt and other debris collect on the filter, it can clog, which makes it difficult for the engine to breathe. In most cases, though, the air filter can easily be changed or cleaned.

Depending on the brand of UTV, an air filter can be removed without tools for easy replacement. To cut costs, many foam-type air filters can be cleaned and then reused. Paper-type filters are also available, but cannot be recycled. Instead, a paper filter would need to be replaced, just like on a truck or car. This won't take more than a few minutes and will save valuable time and horsepower down the road.

A clogged air filter can also cause your engine to run ‘rich,’ meaning there is not enough air in the fuel mixture. When an engine runs rich, it's less fuel-efficient, so staying on top of this maintenance step also saves on fuel costs.

The air filter is only one of the filters on your maintenance checklist. Just like with a car, the oil and oil filter on a UTV need to be changed regularly. This is cheap insurance for a long-lasting engine and transmission.

OIL AND OIL FILTER

As with any car or truck, contaminated oil can cause a UTV engine to feel a bit sluggish. If the oil is never checked or changed, major engine damage can result. The oil filter keeps contaminants such as dirt and various metal particles away from key areas that depend on cool, clean oil to maintain a thin, protective barrier between moving engine parts.

Change the oil and oil filter at the beginning and end of each season to ensure top performance from your UTV. Consider changing the oil more frequently if it's been run through deep mud or water crossings, as mud and water are no friends of internal engine parts. This is done the same way you would change the oil and filter in your car. Replace the filter and drain and replace the oil following the manufacturer's direction. Always check the owner's manual for the recommended type of oil. During the oil change, also check the fluid reservoirs and top off any that are low.

If the vehicle will be sitting in a shed or garage through the winter, change the oil before storing the unit. Letting a vehicle sit for months with old, contaminated oil can allow the acids that build up in the oil to attack the internal components of the engine.

TIRE PRESSURE: PUMP IT UP

The most important rule for UTV tire performance is maintaining the correct pressure as specified by the manufacturer. The benefits of proper inflation include better fuel efficiency, more even tread wear and a more comfortable, safer ride.

Check tire pressure at least once a month — more if you change elevation frequently or live in an area with frequent temperature swings. Under-inflated tires can cause the UTV to handle sluggishly in turns, and can lead to cut sidewalls or even a bent rim if the wheel strikes a sharp object and deflects the tire tread all the way to the rim.

It's not uncommon for riders to over-inflate tires to gain more speed on hard trails. While over-inflation reduces rolling resistance, it also causes the tire to ride on the middle of the tread, which leads to premature tire wear down the center. And because the tire is using just that center portion of the tread, traction may be decreased and the UTV will feel loose or ‘push’ in turns on hard trails. An over-inflated tire is also more prone to puncture damage because the tire can't deflect over sharp objects as well.

NUTS AND BOLTS

The final step in your UTV check-up is to verify that the nuts and bolts are tight on all major components. A quick once-over of the wheels, engine mounts and suspension will help make certain your UTV is ready to roll.

This is also an ideal time to check for any worn parts that may need attention. Most of the parts that move, rotate or spin have grease fittings so you can perform a preventive lube job yourself. That'll keep all the moving parts moving.

And always lube these fittings after deep mud and water crossings, as it not only lubricates the parts involved, but also forces the water from them. Any other moving parts can be shot with a bit of WD-40 to lubricate them and displace any water that may have found its way inside and is planning to turn to rust.

While these tips are good rules of thumb, it's important to check the owner's manual for additional needs of your specific UTV. Regular maintenance is a necessary part of utility vehicle operation. Just taking a few minutes to check over your UTV will help ensure your vehicle runs smoothly for years to come.

Jason Lutes is a technical training instructor for Club Car, Inc., (Augusta, Ga.). He trains dealers, distributors and end users on how to properly operate and service Club Car's entire fleet of utility and transportation vehicles. In addition, he designs the curriculum and teaches all internal and external technical training classes.

FIVE WAYS TO KEEP YOUR UTV HUMMIN' WHEN THE SNOW FALLS

Even though summer is just getting cranked up in most parts of the country, winter will be here before you know it. If you are planning to use your utility vehicle (UTV) frequently this winter, here are some steps to ensure trouble-free operation in cold weather.

  • Add a carb heater

    Check your owner's manual for any cold-weather instructions specific to your machine. Some models, for example, will work better in the cold if a carburetor heater is installed.

  • Switch oils

    Consider using a synthetic oil for cold-weather use. Mineral-based motor oil begins to thicken at 20°F, and will not flow at -30°F. The viscosity of synthetic oil, however, is unaffected by temperature, which means it will provide instant lubrication when you start your engine, even after it's been sitting outside all night.

  • Check the battery

    Cold weather diminishes the cranking power of your battery. Make sure it's in good condition and the terminal connections are clean and tight.

  • Top off the tank

    Ice-clogged fuel passages can be a big problem in winter. Using your UTV in damp winter weather, or even moving it from a warm garage to the cold and back again, can cause moisture to condense in the fuel tank. Try to keep the tank full and regularly add an isopropyl alcohol additive to the fuel.

  • Stop corrosion

    When you trailer your UTV in the winter, protect it from road-salt corrosion by spraying down the suspension and brakes with a silicone water dispersant like WD-40. If you can, rinse the UTV after each trip and let it dry in a warm garage.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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